The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
About the book:
Holling Hoddhood is really in for it. He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare….outside class?
The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things to worry about, especially Vietnam. Then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, the Hoodhoods need to be on their best behavior: the success of Hoodhood and Associated depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? Rats, for one thing; cream puffs, for another. Then there’s Doug Swieteck’s brother. And Ariel’s costume: tights. That’s just for starters. In a series of mishaps and adventures over the course of a school year, fate sneaks up on Holling again and again.
Gary D. Schmidt has written a novel that is at turns comic and compelling, down-to-earth and over-the-top. In The Wednesday Wars, he offers an unforgettable antihero in Holling Hoodhood, a kid from the suburbs who embraces his destiny in spite of himself.
About the author:
Gary D. Schmidt is the author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. His other novels for Clarion are Anson’s Way and Straw into Gold. He grew up in a Long Island suburb, where he crouched under his desk during atomic bomb alerts, heard powerful voices speaking out against the Vietnam war, memorized Shakespeare, and pounded erasers against brick walls at school. He is now a professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- In the beginning of the novel, Holling is convinced that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, despises him. Why does he believe this to be so? What details help support his case? Do you think it is obvious which students your teachers like and dislike? Have you ever been justly (or unjustly) disliked by one of your teachers? What type of year did you have?
- Why is Holling left alone on Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker? What is he compelled to do for her? Finally Mrs. Baker starts assigning the plays of which bard? What is Holling surprised to learn about the plays?
- Holling receives threats from many of his classmates over puff pastry. How does this transpire? How does he try to fix the situation? Why does Mrs. Baker say to Holling over the pastry incident: “The quality of mercy is not strained.” How so? Does this change Holling’s perception of Mrs. Baker? To whom do you offer mercy?
- Why do you think the author chooses to call Doug Swieteck’s brother by this moniker for the entire novel rather than name him? What other intentional choices did Gary D. Schmidt make about other characters? How do readers get to know the characters of a novel?
- Discuss Holling’s relationship with his parents, especially his father. What expectations does Mr. Hoodhood have for his children? Is he involved in Holling’s life? Would you consider him a good father or not? Why? How does Holling finally stand up to his father?
- Gary D. Schmidt creates an entire cast of secondary characters who flit in and out of the novel some of them are even rodents! How do their stories weave depth and comedy into Holling’s story? Which of these minor characters is your favorite: Doug Sweitick’s brother, Mai Thai, Meryl Lee, Danny Hupfer, Mrs. Sidman, Sycorax and Caliban.
- How does Holling’s Valentines Day date with Meryl Lee become entwined with Mr. Hoodhood’s bid for the new junior high school? Why does Mr. Hoodhood refer to architecture as a “blood sport?” Does Mr. Hoodhood eventually get what he deserves? How?
- Why is playing the part of Ariel a humiliating incident for Holling? What is the worst part of the whole experience? What new picture is finally pasted around the school? Who do you think posted them around the school the second time? What makes you think so?
- Why does the section concerning Mickey Mantle inspire Holling to say that “When gods die, they die hard” (p. 92) Even though Holling is devastated over the treatment he receives from one of his heroes he is astounded by the loyalty of a friend. How does Danny prove his honor and friendship that night? Has a friend ever stood up for you? How? Are the boys ultimately rewarded? How?
- What advice does Holling give Mrs. Baker about her teaching before the board visits the classroom? If you could give a teacher advice what would be the most important, most helpful instruction you might offer? Do you think his advice was given in a sincere attempt to help her or not? Would yours?
- Many important historical events occur as the novel unfolds like the assassination of both Marin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Which events do you think your children one day ask you about? How are people shaped by the times in which they live and grow up?
- How does Holling’s sister try to rebel against the expectations of her father? What does she want to do after graduation? How does this lead to her disappearance from the Perfect House? How does Holling come to his sister’s rescue? Do you think they will remain close or not?
- Which of the many plays of Shakespeare has the most influence over Holling? Now that you’ve heard the summaries of many of the great plays which ones are you most compelled to read? Give examples of how Holling’s life mirrors the play in which he is reading. How does it influence his actions? Can reading actually change the person you are? Which books have fundamentally changed your perspective?
- At the end of the novel what compels Mrs. Baker to say “Chrysanthemum” to Holling? Do you think she can take a good deal of the credit for this or not? How can one excellent teacher have a lasting impact on a child’s life? What teacher has most influenced you? How did their lives become intertwined beyond the walls of the classroom?
- Predict what you think Holling will be doing ten years after the close of the novel. Will he become what his father expects? Will he be able to define himself despite the expectations that weigh him down?
Read (or see) one of the Shakespearean plays that Holling reads during the course of the novel. Write a brief journal about what you learned and compare your own thoughts on it to what Holling had to say. Choose a few lines that mean the most to you and commit them to memory. Discuss why you chose these lines and the process of memorizing them in your journal as well.
Explore the decade of the 1960’s. Create a timeline of important historical events. Research the influence of important social and political movements; listen to music that was popular during this period (esp. the Monkees and the Beetles mentioned in the book). Create an historical timeline for your life.
Research one of the following topics from the book:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Space Program
Architectural Landmarks (of your own town)